As the UK continues to see COVID-19 cases, wearing a face-covering is now a requirement in most public settings. However, there is still some confusion over when masks are required and which materials provide the best protection.
We know that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, laughs, shouts or sings. They can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or can possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Face coverings, when worn correctly, may reduce the release of infectious particles, thus reducing the spread of COVID-19.
When to Wear a Face Covering
UK legislation now states that anyone over the age of 11 wears a face covering when outside their home and unable to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others. You also need to wear a face mask in all shops (where you are able to).
Situation where you need to wear a face mask includes:
- Waiting in line to go inside a shop
- Shopping in a shop
- Picking up food at a restaurant
- In common areas, such as hallways, stairways, elevators, and enclosed car parks
- Waiting for or riding on public transport
- In a taxi or other ride-service vehicles
- When visiting a GP, or during a hospital visit
- Going into facilities allowed to stay open
- Working an essential job that interacts with the public
- Outdoors when unable to maintain two meters from people not from the same household
- You are not required to wear a face-covering when you are at home, although a face covering is recommended if someone in your home is sick or has been exposed to COVID-19.
There is also no need for face coverings when you are in the car, swimming, walking, hiking, bicycling, or running by yourself or with your own household members. However, you should have a face-covering readily available in case you come within six feet of others not from your household, such as on a narrow walking trail or when going through a restaurant’s drive-thru.
People who don’t wear a mask face a fine of up to £100, apart from people with medical conditions and children under 11.
On 13 August, Boris Johnson announced that tougher penalties would be enforced for those who repeatedly fail to wear face coverings in public places. Fines will double each time someone is found to breach the rules and will increase to a maximum of £3,200.
Types of Face Coverings That Work
Cloth face coverings must cover the nose and mouth and can be snugly secured to the head with ties or straps, or simply wrapped around the lower face. They can be made of cotton, silk or linen and should have at least two layers of densely woven fabric. A cloth face covering can be hand-sewn or factory-made, or can be designed from household items, such as bandanas, scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts or towels.
A recent study found that masks made of two-layered quilting cotton usually blocked the most respiratory droplets from spreading when compared to other types of masks worn by the general public, including a bandana, loosely folded cotton handkerchief and cone-shaped disposable mask. Whatever the material used, it is important to wash your cloth face covering with detergent and hot water after each use or, at the very least, every day.
These tend to protect other around the wearer but not the wearer themselves.
Disposable surgical, procedural or cone-style face masks provide protection against large respiratory droplets, as with cloth face-coverings, these are most effective at protecting the person wearing one from transmitting infection to others.
Face shields, which are full-face coverings made of clear plastic attached to a headband and extending past the chin can be considered for those who cannot wear another type of face covering.
Health care providers who work with infected patients often use face shields paired with FFP2/KN95 masks to protect their eyes from respiratory droplets, and some California counties are requiring restaurant workers to wear both face shields and cloth masks. However, for the average person following other precautions, such as social distancing and hand-washing, cloth face masks are currently public health officials’ top choice.
Studies show that a significant number of individuals with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic and still transmit the virus to others. When combined with social distancing and regular hand-washing, wearing face coverings can reduce the spread of COVID-19, which is incredibly important if we hope to decrease the number of illnesses and deaths caused by the disease, and safely reopen schools, businesses and more.